Bears On and Off Campus

The author in backpacking gear standing on side of trail with dramatic granite rock features and a waterfall in the background
Descending into Yosemite National Park on our last day

A few weeks ago I got a phone call from my friend Katie. I answered, thinking I would catch up with a friend and former housemate, but instead she led me in a direction I didn’t expect. On that call, she convinced me to leave Berkeley in five days and hike the John Muir Trail with her, a famously beautiful (and difficult) trail which connects Yosemite National Park to Mt.Whitney, the tallest point in the contiguous United States. The traditional route sends backpackers Southbound, giving them time to gradually adjust to the high elevations and tackle the most difficult terrain later in the trip, however that route is notoriously difficult to find permits for. With a few adjustments to the itinerary, including going “NOBO” (Northbound) and beginning almost 25 miles South of Mt.Whitney, I paid a visit to to purchase the $11.00 permit for my three week vacation! All in all, we took 18 days to cover 240 miles of trail. read more

When I’m Asked About Race on a Tour

As a Berkeley Campus Ambassador, I am an employee of Public Affairs paid to represent and advocate for the university while telling my own Berkeley story. One thing I love about my job is the autonomy I have to be transparent with visitors, and to honestly answer questions that are widely considered “difficult” from a public affairs perspective. I take pride in the fact that since I was hired in February 2019, I have yet to see UC Berkeley Visitor & Parent Services attempt to censor the honesty of Campus Ambassadors, especially considering we fill a role which at a school without such autonomy might amount to that of a propagandist. read more

In the Spirit of Uncertainty

Summer is an important time for college students. Many of us work, seek out new experiences, take internships, travel or continue our studies. It’s a time to enjoy the limited responsibilities of University while escaping the academic pressure, and focus on things you care about. 

Prior to COVID-19 cancellations, my Plan A for Summer 2020 was to complete a research internship fully funded by the German Academic Exchange (DAAD) studying tropical corals in Germany (sounds cool, doesn’t it?). This, unfortunately, was the first of my plans to be cancelled. Thankfully, I anticipated this, and thought of Plan B: spending my Summer contemplating conifers at UC Berkeley Forestry Camp, a required program for Forestry majors at Cal which focuses on developing the practical skills for a career in forestry or natural resource management. When Forestry Camp applicants were notified that the program would likely not occur, I thought of Plan C: Take summer classes and work in my lab on campus. Yet, Summer classes are being held online, and as the days go by, it seems more and more plausible that there will be no open lab to return to.  read more

Surviving and Thriving Under Shelter-In-Place

On March 20th, nine days ago as I write this, the state of California issued a shelter-in-place  directive in response to COVID-19, radically changing the way state residents live and work. For a university with about 27,000 California residents amongst its undergraduates (, most of the student body is now subject to this new way of life. 

This directive followed announcements from UC Berkeley that classes would be held online for the remainder of the semester, with no in person instruction, prompting many students to leave their places of residence in Berkeley and return to family in far flung parts of the state or world. For those who left and those who remain, these are strange times.  read more

What is Undergraduate Research, and Why is it Amazing?

Undergraduate research happens all over campus. In any department, students of any major, age, or career goals can be found researching. Berkeley is a unique place to be an undergraduate researcher because we are guaranteed to have some of the most accomplished faculty and promising graduate students in your field (regardless of what it is).

Girl in lab coat, face mask, and protective plastic apron
Me in my appropriate personal protective equipment for working with acids.

There are lots of different ways to find research positions on campus, but one of the most popular is URAP (the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program). URAP allows students to complete an application and be matched with faculty projects, while receiving academic units for their time. I found my current research position through URAP two years ago as an undeclared Freshman in FPF, which is proof that research isn’t always an exclusive club made just for upperclassmen. Some departments also sponsor paid research positions with stipends or work-study, and there are more scholarships for undergraduate research projects provided by Berkeley’s Office of Research & Undergraduate Scholarships (OURS). read more

The Day I Finally Knew

When I began my Berkeley journey, the last thing on my mind were the friendships and connections I would build along the way.

As a freshman, I believed that I was here to learn, build skills, and graduate.

I spent High School so focused on the distant future that when it suddenly came, and college appeared on the horizon, I was completely unprepared. Growing up in California, an obvious action was applying to California’s two public university systems: UCs and CSUs. However, beyond those respective applications, I didn’t put in much thought to where I applied. At that time UC Berkeley wouldn’t even have made the top ten on a list of schools I could see myself attending, so when it became my best choice four months later, I was unsure what to do. read more

My Love of McCone Hall

The view from the southwest corner of the fifth floor balcony, McCone Hall

From a quick count of a campus map, you’ll see that there are over fifty stand-alone buildings on UC Berkeley’s main campus. Among these are libraries, lecture halls, buildings with research centers and labs, ten story buildings, tiny buildings, and buildings famous for getting students lost in their mazes (I’m talking to you Dwinelle Hall…). From most points on campus you can spot buildings spanning several eras of architecture, sometimes with ages separated by a hundred years or more. Currently the oldest building on campus is South Hall, built in 1873, and the newest is Berkeley Way West built in 2018. read more

My Strangest Educational Experiences at Cal

Hey there! My name’s Violet and I’m excited to be writing for the Bear Talk Blog this semester.

I study physical geography and atmospheric science, and maybe its just me and my major, but I feel like I’ve done some pretty weird things for class. This post lists five strange things I’ve done for school, it coincidentally also doubles as a list of some of my favorite memories here. I can’t wait to add to it!

1. Licked rocks

Introductory Earth science courses at Berkeley include labs, several of which focus on mineralogy. In one of my lab sections I was once asked to identify a solid sample of Halite (solid NaCl), and given the option of licking it as a foolproof method of identification, I did. It was salty. read more